In Soviet Ukraine, Lesia Ukrainka’s poetic drama Forest Song (Lisova pisnia) has been presented as a naïve folk tale, while the more radical aspects of the drama, including Ukrainka’s subtle commentary on female agency, creativity, and embodiment, were overlooked. The translators Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps chose to render the work ‘in an English that would sound natural when spoken by young actors of diverse backgrounds and could easily be understood by an English-speaking theatre audience’.
(LUKE walks up to the birch, takes out his knife and is about to slash it for sap, when MAVKA grabs his hand).
Don’t! Don’t cut! Don’t kill!
I only want to get some sap
for syrup from this tree.
Don’t you dare! It’s her blood.
Don’t make my sister bleed!
You call this birch your sister?
Who are you?
Mavka, a forest nymph.
(looking at her carefully)
You’re a forest nymph?
I heard about you from the old folks,
but I never thought I’d see one.
Did you ever want to see one?
Sure, why not? But, you look like a real girl… Well, like a lady.
Your hands are so smooth, and you’re so slim. But your clothes are not
the kind noble ladies wear…
How come your eyes aren’t green?
(LUKE looks closely at her).
Well, now they’re green… but they were blue like the sky…
And now they’ve turned gray,
like clouds… No, now they’re black,
or maybe brown… How strange you are!
Do you think I’m pretty?
Oh, how would I know!
Well, do you?
What a question!
Why can’t I ask?
See, over there the wild rose asks:
“Am I beautiful?”
And the ash nods its branches in response, “The most beautiful in the world!”
Have you always lived here?
All my life.
And how long is that?
I never thought about it, really…
(MAVKA thinks a while).
I must have lived forever…
And have you always looked like this?
I think so…
(MOTHER walks away, crossing the clearing towards the lake. MAVKA bends over the rye and swings the sickle. The FIELD NYMPH emerges out of the rye. A cascade of golden hair covers her tiny figure. She wears a garland of blue cornflowers).
(rushes to MAVKA)
Don’t destroy my beauty!
I’ve been forced into rows, restrained. All my flowers that once
blazed free like stars,
ripped out of the rye!
Once poppies burned here
red like flames.
Now look even the last traces
of their blood has dried up…
Sister, I must! Your beauty
will return even more stunning next year, but if my happiness fades now
it will never rise again.
(wrings her hands and sways with grief like a blade of rye in the wind).
What sorrow! My hair,
my golden hair,
my youth and beauty
condemned to death…
Your beauty was not fated to live long, it grows to die.
It’s useless to beg,
If not I, someone else will cut you down.
Look, sister, how the wind runs,
runs across the rye.
Let us enjoy this paradise,
while the sun still shines,
while the rye stands tall,
while the inevitable hasn’t yet come!
A moment, a brief moment!
Just an instant, please!
Then my beauty will abandon me
will fall by itself.
Sister, don’t be like winter,
who doesn’t listen, just descends!
I would gladly do what you ask,
but my freedom to do so has disappeared.
(whispers to MAVKA)
Doesn’t it sometimes happen in the field that a hand is cut with a sickle?
Sister, take pity on me.
A small cut will be enough.
Surely, my beauty worth a single drop of blood?
(cuts her hand with the sickle. Blood splatters the FIELD NYMPH’s golden hair).
(The FIELD NYMPH bows to MAVKA and disappears in the rye).
Image: Olena Kulchytska, Exlibris, c. 1906. Source: photo-lviv.in.ua